13.35, Thursday 13 Jan 2011

Autom is a robot weight-loss coach: Autom has a short conversation with you every day to help you keep track of your eating and exercise quickly and simply. She provides feedback, advice, and encouragement to keep you motivated.

Let's be blunt. It's a touchscreen interface to answer multiple choice questions about whether you've exercised or not, and for how long, and it adapts day by day to encourage you to lose weight. Only the screen is in the belly of a tiny robot with robot speech, and massive blue eyes which blink and wink slightly too slowly.

It's remarkable the difference the face makes. If Autom were an iPhone app, it would have to be like filling in a little form every day. But because it's a little robot, there's license for the interface to be conversational. It can ask you questions in a different order, request you to return the next day (and you'll feel bad if you don't!). A conversational interface can make suggestions where a conventional one can't.

(Healthcare's an interesting space. GlowCaps are medicine bottle tops that light up and play a tune when it's time to take your pills. Because they're connected to the internet, they can join up to larger services: you can have a cash incentive to complete your prescription, or work to achieve challenges in a game, or just an email to a family member if you forget. The market is insurance companies, not pill-takers. They'll pay for it because it's in their interest to keep you healthy. Autom and GlowCaps are "ubicomp" - ubiquitous computing - without being computing. They're helpful coaches first, and only secondarily technology/robots/magically connected devices.)